PSEG Long Island has agreed to work with East Hampton to hammer out a game plan this Friday to eventually run a new underground transmission line from East Hampton Village to Amagansett, but the electric company’s representatives said there’s no way they can stop work on a project underway to run the line above ground.
A crowd overflowed East Hampton Town Hall Wednesday afternoon to hear representatives from Long Island’s new utility debate the merits of burying the transmission line, which is currently being run overhead on a six-mile stretch of small back roads, sometimes within 20 feet of bedroom windows on small village streets.
PSEG President David Daly repeatedly told the crowd that he was committed to working with the community on solutions ranging from burying lines along part of the project to examining alternate routes, including one along the Long Island Rail Road tracks that had been dismissed by the utility early on in the vetting process because of rules against undermining the berm surrounding the railroad.
But he said the process of examining the alternatives and preparing to run the line underground would take 12 to 14 months, and PSEG plans to have the new transmission line up and running before Memorial Day to avoid potential blackouts and brownouts this summer.
“We care a great deal about doing a good job and bringing an outstanding utility to Long Island,” said Mr. Daly early on in the two-hour long discussion. “We intend to be a very, very good corporate citizen.”
“But we have a very serious reliability problem from this point” with the electric grid, he said. “Good people in good faith put together this solution.”
Mr. Daly and PSEG Project Manager Bob Parkinson provided answers to eight questions raised by a panel of community members that included Concerned Citizens of Montauk Executive Director Jeremy Samuelson, former Councilwoman Debra Foster and Jack Forst and Michael Brown, who live along the route, while East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell and East Hampton Village Mayor Paul Rickenbach tried to steer the sometimes boisterous discussion on course toward a resolution.
They said the current project is slated to cost $7 million, and contractors will be paid whether it is halted or not. They said running lines underground costs around $3 million per mile in areas with straight runs where there aren’t other underground utilities and can cost as much as $4 million per mile for areas like East Hampton Village.
Mr. Daly said he’s discussed with FEMA the possibility of using part of more than $700,000 million allocated by FEMA to strengthen Long Island’s electric infrastructure in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, but FEMA representatives have told him the East Hampton project would not qualify for the program. He said he would continue to try to get help from FEMA for the project.
He also said the new line would not be run above ground down the railroad tracks because there are already two transmission lines above ground there, and one of the primary purposes of putting in a new line was to ensure the system would be resilient if the other lines are damaged.
Throughout the meeting, residents kept coming back to a request that the current work be stopped, and Mr. Daly repeatedly refused to consider the suggestion. Toward the end of the meeting, Mr. Samuelson asked him to shake hands on a two-day moratorium on work on the line while both sides work out a written agreement to examine alternatives, as a show of good faith. Mr. Daly refused.
“Give the crew Thursday and Friday [off] ,” said Mr. Samuelson. “I’m asking for that demonstration of trust.”
“Nothing changes in two days,” said Mr. Daly.
“Then there’s no trust,” said Mr. Samuelson.
“A lot changes in two days,” he added, as the crowd became agitated at Mr. Daly’s refusal to shake hands. “This community feels violated.”
Members of the group Save East Hampton, which has coalesced around a campaign to bury the lines, passed a petition with 2,000 signatures on it around to PSEG representatives, as Mr. Samuelson reminded them that only a small portion of East Hampton’s residents are currently in town, and when they’re all here, the meetings might not be as friendly as this one was.
“I see some progress here,” said Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell at the close of the meeting. “I’m very happy you all came.”
Mr. Rickenbach agreed.
“You’ve come to the table. We’re at the 50-yard line,” he said. “You’re looking at a very dynamic constituency that cares about the community. Where’s the money coming from? None of us know. If we have a letter of intent to go underground, I think this is doable. We’ve come more than a mile today.”